I will be attending my 180 game tonight and I can say, for certain, that at all of these games at least one person was eating, chewing, or spitting sunflower seeds! Sunflower seeds—which as any botany student will tell you, are not seeds, but achenes—are eaten around the world in various forms. I used chew tobacco for over 30 years because of Rod Carew. I was trying to emulate him, his swing and he chewed. I became addicted at an early age. When I was going through my many attempts to quit that nasty habit, I was told about sunflower seeds.
In the United States, many view sunflower seeds as an alternative to chewing tobacco for baseball players, softball players and fans. From Little League to the Majors, it’s rare to see a single pitch thrown without at least one emptied shell being spit by someone. But when did players start taking them out to the ballgame?
Hall of Fame Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial were known to chew sunflower seeds back in the 1950’s. In 1968, fellow baseball legend Reggie Jackson started using them. That’s when their popularity really began to sprout.
Who knows whether this alternative was because of Jackson’s success he had on the field; or, the attention he got for chewing sunflower seeds off of the field. It could have been an increased awareness of the dangers of tobacco use or simply the satisfaction one gets from removing the kernel from its salty hull. But, players started following his lead which was much to the chagrin of Major League grounds crews!
I remember seeing buckets of sunflower seeds when my nephew Eric, Johnny and I were getting a private tour of Miller Park last summer. I was shocked at the amount of seeds that the players, coaches and even umpires went through during a game. If you watch closely, you will see the majority popping them into their mouths through out the game.
When I observed the Omaha Storm Chasers grounds crew after the game, one of the things that they had to do was sweep up the sunflower seeds in the dugout, bullpens and on the field. The ‘remains’ were seemingly everywhere. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find what the appeal is to these little morsels.
I have purchased a few bags on this trip, popped some into my mouth and tried to figure out a system to de-shell and spit without making a mess. If you have just one the process is pretty easy. However with multiples in your mouth, which most people enjoy, it takes quite a bit of coordination to manipulate the shells which adds a whole new level of complexity and skill. Do you store the kernels of the shelled in between your cheek and gums, then continue de-shelling? Or, do you chew the little kernel up before proceeding to the next shell? Either way, regarding my personal attempts, I create a huge mess in my mouth. A couple of times I have had minor panic attack thinking that I am choking when a hull has gotten caught in my throat.
I am currently working on a 5.35 ounce bag of Bigs Sunflower Seeds Vlasic Dill Pickle flavor. I am committed to finishing the entire bag. I am a novice at this and my tongue hurts at the moment. If I can’t be a professional baseball player, I can at least eat, chew and spit sunflower seeds like one! Anyway, I am in Bend, Oregon sitting at a Starbucks (really another Starbucks, hard to believe). I drove through a mountain range today to get here. The day is beautiful and scenery was equal to the day. I stopped and jumped in a river near the top. Mountain water is COLD, but very refreshing. My car is littered with sunflower shells that missed my “spittoon” cup I was using as I was driving down the mountain. College Summer baseball game tonight. The season for a lot of these leagues will be coming to an end soon which will make it difficult for me to find games easily!
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